A urinary catheter is a tube placed in the body to drain and collect urine
from the bladder.
Urinary catheters are used to drain the bladder. Your health
care provider may recommend that you use a catheter if you have:
Urinary incontinence (leaking urine or being unable to control
when you urinate)
Urinary retention (being unable to empty your bladder when you
Surgery on the prostate or genitals
Other medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord
injury, or dementia
Catheters come in many sizes, materials (latex, silicone,
Teflon™), and types (Foley, straight, coude tip). A Foley catheter, for example,
is a soft, plastic or rubber tube that is inserted into the bladder to drain the
Usually your health care provider will use the smallest possible
There are three main types of catheters:
Intermittent (short-term) catheter
INDWELLING URETHRAL CATHETERS
An indwelling urinary catheter is one that is left in the
bladder. You may use an indwelling catheter for a short time or a long time.
An indwelling catheter collects urine by attaching to a drainage
bag. A newer type of catheter has a valve that can be opened to allow urine to
An indwelling catheter may be inserted into the bladder in two
Most often, the catheter is inserted through the urethra. This
is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
Sometimes, the health care provider will insert a catheter into
your bladder through a small hole in your belly. This is done at a hospital or
health care provider's office.
An indwelling catheter has a small balloon inflated on the end
of it. This prevents the catheter from sliding out of your body. When the
catheter needs to be removed, the balloon is deflated.
Condom catheters are most often used in elderly men with
dementia. There is no tube placed inside the penis. Instead, a condom-like
device is placed over the penis. A tube leads from this device to a drainage
bag. The condom catheter must be changed every day.
INTERMITTENT (SHORT-TERM) CATHETERS
You would use an intermittent catheter when you only need to use
a catheter sometimes. You remove these catheters after the flow of urine has
A catheter is usually attached to a drainage bag. There are two
types of bags:
A leg bag is a small device that attaches by elastic bands to
the leg. It holds about 300 to 500 milliliters (ml) of urine. You wear it during
the day, because you can hide it under pants or a skirt. You can easily empty it
into the toilet.
You can use a larger drainage device during the night. It holds
1 to 2 liters of urine. You hang the device on your bed or place it on the
Keep the drainage bag lower than your bladder so that urine does
not flow back up into your bladder. Empty the drainage device at least every 8
hours, or when it is full.
To clean the drainage bag, remove it from the catheter. Attach a
new drainage device to the catheter while you clean the old one.
Clean and deodorize the drainage bag by filling it with a
mixture of vinegar and water. Or, you can use chlorine bleach instead. Let the
bag soak for 20 minutes. Hang it with the outlet valve open to drain and dry.
HOW TO CARE FOR A CATHETER
To care for an indwelling catheter, clean the area where the
catheter exits your body and the catheter itself with soap and water every day.
Also clean the area after every bowel movement to prevent infection.
If you have a suprapubic catheter, clean the opening in your
belly and the tube with soap and water every day. Then cover it with dry gauze.
Drink plenty of fluids to help prevent infections. Ask your
health care provider how much you should drink.
Wash your hands before and after handling the drainage device.
Do not allow the outlet valve to touch anything. If the outlet gets dirty, clean
it with soap and water.
Sometimes urine can leak around the catheter. This may be caused
Catheter that is blocked or that has a kink in it
Catheter that is too small
The wrong balloon size
Urinary tract infections
Complications of catheter use include:
Allergy or sensitivity to latex
Blood infections (septicemia)
Blood in the urine (hematuria)
Kidney damage (usually only with long-term, indwelling catheter
Urinary tract or kidney infections
Call your health care provider if you have:
Bladder spasms that do not go away
Bleeding into or around the catheter
Fever or chills
Large amounts of urine leaking around the catheter
Skin sores around a suprapubic catheter
Stones or sediment in the urinary catheter or drainage bag
Swelling of the urethra around the catheter
Urine with a strong smell, or that is thick or cloudy
Very little or no urine draining from the catheter and you are
drinking enough fluids
If the catheter becomes clogged, painful, or infected, it will
need to be replaced immediately.